By Heather Bellow, Berkshire Eagle
June 4, 2017
Either they’re smart and wore a head net bug shield, or they’re constantly flapping their hands as they man their work sites.
Such is the case now here at Otis State Forest, as Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. workers and security have found themselves in a place where little mayflies can torment even the sturdiest construction worker or former military man working a detail for the Kinder Morgan subsidiary.
“I was in the Army — boot,” said one security guard parked near the company’s valve station on Town Hill Road. He began to wave at flies immediately after rolling down his window to talk.
And that’s all he would say, since everyone around here has been instructed not to talk about anything to do with Tennessee Gas’ Connecticut Expansion Project, a natural gas storage loop being added to an existing pipeline corridor. When asked if there had been any security problems so far, he shook his head.
He did nod, however, when asked if he had been hired by Edward Davis LLC, a large Boston security firm started by Davis, a former Boston Police Commissioner at the helm during the Boston Marathon bombing.
Davis’ firm provides a host of “security solutions” and training and employs experts “specially trained and served in all levels of government, military and federal agencies — including former U.S. Navy Seals, U.S. Secret Service members, major city police department chiefs and private security sector experts.”
When asked what specific threats to this section of the 13-mile, $93 million tri-state project, Kinder Morgan spokeswoman Sara Hughes said she had to decline comment on “security-related matters.”
The Davis firm did not return calls for comment.
The pipeline company’s private security has been visibly scaled back, after initial concerns about protests at the start of work in late April, and a total of 24 arrests of protesters ever since.
But residents and protesters report a series of brushes with security forces associated with the project — nothing serious, perhaps, but enough to maintain a feeling of relative unease in the community.
The pipeline project has been controversial on a number of grounds including environmental concerns, questions about the need for the extra gas this new line will provide, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s approval process, which lately has been criticized by a group of U.S. lawmakers, including three who represent Massachusetts.
But the big issue was the legal precedent set by Tennessee Gas winning an easement on about 2 miles of state owned land protected by the state Constitution through Article 97. This made tree cutting near an old growth stand of hemlocks in Otis State Forest the focal point of anti-pipeline activists, and what according to state police Lt. John Pinkham, likely prompted heavy security presence.
“Given the history of pipeline protests,” Pinkham said, “[Kinder-Morgan] was concerned about protecting their large investment.”
Yet no one will say from exactly what. Of the 24 arrested, only a few were under the age of 65, and part of a group committed to nonviolence.
While some state police troopers have been on duty here, others are hired by the company for details or overtime, Pinkham added, noting that this does not come at taxpayer expense.
“The company reimburses the state — it’s not a check from Kinder-Morgan to the troopers.”
He said there was a firewall here.
“[The state] wants to keep troopers insulated from influence by Kinder-Morgan or any company,” he said. “We are not mercenaries hired by Kinder Morgan.”